ANC of NJ leads Genocide commemoration with national, state and local legislators

Pan community event garners support throughout the Garden State

Left to Right- Congressman Josh Gottheimer, Mayor Mike Ghassali, State Senator Holly Schepisi, and State Senator Joe Lagana (Photo: Garine Koushagjian)

MONTVALE, NJOn Saturday April 24, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of New Jersey, with the support of Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali, sponsored a Pan-Armenian community gathering honoring the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Over 350 people attended the event that took place at the Armenian Genocide memorial at Huff Pond in Montvale, NJ, and featured guest speaker Dr. Antranig Kasbarian. Joining the community on this historic day were Congressman Josh Gottheimer, State Senators Joseph Lagana and Holly Schepisi and Bergen County Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Tracey Zur. Also in attendance were Hillsdale Mayor John Ruocco and president of the International Christian Union Joseph Hakim.

Master of Ceremonies Vani Apanosian welcomed clergy, Mayor Ghassali, State Senators and Congressman, various community organizational representatives, community members and Montvale residents. The Homenetmen Scouts of New Jersey presented the American, Armenian and Artsakh flags followed by the singing of the American and Armenian National Anthems by Tvene Baronian. 

In her opening remarks, Apanosian noted the support from dedicated New Jersey politicians in collaboration with many local Armenian community organizations. “Today, we will hear from several speakers, all of whom have dedicated their time to the Armenian cause in the hopes of gaining the ultimate goals of recognition, reparation and restoration. We are pleased that so many of our community wide groups and churches have joined us today and honored that we will be joined by several of our governmental officials and legislators,” she said.

Mayor Ghassali then offered his remarks, sharing how proud he was to welcome attendees to his community, and the story of how his grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide. He reflected on the story, noting, “This story is a story of resilience, perseverance, and we are here on a very special day where President Biden declared his support of the Armenians.” In October of 2020, he spearheaded an initiative to dedicate a monument to those who perished during the Armenian Genocide, which has a permanent residence at Huff Pond. 

Next Apanosian invited Representative Josh Gottheimer of the US House of Representatives to share his remarks. “I’m overwhelmed by how many people have shown up today… what a beautiful day for an important, solemn occasion,” he said. “I believe it’s our duty to speak out honestly about historical facts and recognize the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians, as well as Greeks, Syrians, Chaldeans, Cyriacs, Armens, Marionites and other Christians by the Ottoman Empire,” concluded Gottheimer.

Following these comments, State Senator Joseph Lagana reflected on the day. “I’ve listened time and time again to the stories about the generational trauma caused by the Armenian Genocide. Despite such tragic loss, centuries-old Armenian traditions and cultures live on but they are threatened when we turn a blind eye to the systemic efforts of nations to try to destroy them,” he said. “As we sit here today,” the senator continued, “Azerbaijan with Turkey’s support continues to destroy important cultural artifacts and instigate violence in the region.” He confirmed his support in pushing forward legislation recognizing the Armenian Genocide and the Republic of Artsakh. He closed by presenting an authored resolution observing Armenian Genocide Remembrance day in the state of New Jersey.  

Keynote speaker Dr. Antranig Kasbarian (Photo: Garine Koushagjian)

In his keynote speech, Kasbarian spoke about the shift in US foreign policy toward Turkey that paved the way for the Biden administration’s forthright acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide as a genocide. He went on to draw parallels between this historical truth and the present political moment. “It appears that under the Erdogan regime, Turkey has regained its appetite for a pan-Turkic sphere of influence stretching from the Mediterranean all the way to Central Asia,” Kasbarian said. “Today, it is this Turkey that has become essentially a rogue state – loyal to no one, adhering to no fundamental values, and not merely excusing, but justifying, indeed glorifying conquest. This is the Turkey whose face has been revealed today,” he stated. 

“What happened then, 106 years ago, is relevant now. How many of us recall that Karabagh originally fell under Azerbaijan’s control in 1920, due to the eastward onslaught of the Turkish army, led by Nuri Pasha? Indeed, while the Genocide began in Constantinople in 1915, with the rounding up of clergy, intellectuals, and leaders on this date, it practically concluded in 1920, with the burning of Karabagh’s capital city, Shushi, in a preordained massacre guided not by Baku but by Turkish troops,” he said. Kasbarian ended his remarks with a call for continued caution, resolve and work toward the unfinished quest for justice.

Following Kasbarian’s speech, State Senator Holly Schepisi offered her thoughts and reflections. “The denial [of the Armenian Genocide] has taken many forms. There have been many strategies to convince others that no such thing took place. And for those of you who are here, you understand the significance of it but for those who don’t, to put it in perspective, how significant the massacre was; it constituted roughly 70 percent of the total Armenian population,” she noted. Senator Schepisi highlighted the bi-partisan support of this issue. Referring to President Biden’s proclamation she said, “While we may be of differing political parties, I absolutely agree with President Biden and particularly when discussing massacres, and refusing to acknowledge such as a Genocide, silence is indeed complicity. So Senator Lagana, everybody who is here today, I pledge I will work across the aisle with you to ensure passage of your resolution.”

Apanosian then noted the presence of Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Tracy Zur from the Bergen County Board of Commissioners who presented certificates from both the Board and on behalf of the County Executive. Zur noted that “I stand with you because I know that without recognition, there is only repetition… and that’s why ever year, the Bergen County Board of Commissioner’s recognizes the Armenian massacre for what it was: a genocide.” She recognized the longstanding Armenian community presence in Bergen County saying, “In Bergen County, we are so proud to be the home of a strong, prosperous Armenian community who through resilience and perseverance have grown to thrive.” 

Finally, on behalf of the ANC of New Jersey Sarine Adishian spoke about the significance of President Biden’s proclamation. “President Biden, joining with the US Senate and House in condemning the Armenian Genocide, marks the end of an inexcusable era of American complicity in Ankara’s denials. For it to have meaning, American recognition of the Genocide must inform and inspire US policy that challenges both Turkey’s longstanding denials and its ongoing anti-Armenian aggression,” she said. Adishian went on to note, “This is the first step, and while we pause to appreciate this milestone, without a truthful resolution of the Armenian Genocide and taking full accountability, Turkey stands no chance of being a reliable ally of the United States.”

Concluding the program a memorial service was conducted by clergy of the three surrounding Armenian churches: Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church pastor and Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy Armenian Apostolic Church of America Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian; St. Leon Armenian Church pastor Rev. Fr. Diran Bohajian; Deacon Levon Asdourian of St. Leon Armenian Church; and Armenian Presbyterian Church pastor Rev. Joseph Garabedian.

Left to Right- St. Leon Armenian Church pastor Reverend Father Diran Bohajian, Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church pastor and Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy Armenian Apostolic Church of America Very Reverend Father Sahag Yemishian, Armenian Presbyterian Church pastor Reverend Joseph Garabedian, and Deacon Levon Asdourian of St. Leon Armenian Church (Photo: Garine Koushagjian)

Following the service, Very Rev. Fr. Yemishian offered his remarks. “I am so proud today, because as Armenians, we are a nation who fought for justice, who fought for truth… and never gives up… We [Armenians] are fighting for justice not just for ourselves but we are fighting for humanity,” he said. The Vicar General also referred to President Biden’s proclamation, saying, “As we saw and witnessed President Joseph Biden accepting the Genocide, giving us another step moving forward and standing even more firmly on our ground, being the pioneers and champions fighting for justice and truth.” 

Apanosian again thanked Mayor Ghassali, clergy, speakers and the ANC of New Jersey stating, “The commitment that all the organizations, churches and you, the people, have shown by joining us today and being ready whenever called upon has shown that Armenia and Artsakh live and thrive around the world. Whether you are Armenian by blood or by association, it is with the collective strengths and efforts to reach our goal of justice for all.”

Following the singing of the Hayr Mer led by the clergy, those in attendance were invited to place flowers on the new constructed Armenian Genocide monument in honor of the martyrs.

ANCA-Eastern Region
The Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region is part of the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots organization, the ANCA. Working in coordination with the ANCA in Washington, DC, and a network of chapters and supporters throughout the Eastern United States, the ANCA-ER actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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